China Oddities and Facts 101

Some musings/oddities randomly taken throughout my trip.

True: China isn't allowing Mexicans into the country.
  • With all the swine flu swirling around Mexico, China decided that, for the time being, they won't let anyone from Mexico come into the country.

50% False: Chinese citizens live in dire conditions.
  • Having a toilet is a luxury. People living in China are used to "squat toilets," however many establishments feature Western-style toilets.

    The thing is, everyone's used to it. It's nothing to be sympathetic about, as this is just a way of life here.

  • Also, a dryer is an ultimate luxury. Many people choose to hang their clothes outside of their window. Although many may not be able to afford one, having a dryer isn't practical in Chinese cities. Buildings in China are built high up which means the majority of buildings aren't houses, but apartments. Apartments have limited space. Dryers take up space and use an enormous amount of electricity to operate.

  • For the most part, people go about their daily lives like any of us normally do. Generally speaking, many don't mind coming to the U.S. to earn a higher wage, but many are also very well off. We're in Hangzhou for the night, one of the richest cities in China. Huge houses with a huge eight-lane main street featuring Cartier, Valentino and other big name brands. People who live and work in Shanghai end up retiring in this city.
True: China blocks certain sites.
  • Speaking to one of our earlier tour guides in Beijing, she said that everyone knows the government blocks certain sites (e.g. YouTube), but many turn the other cheek. However, I was surprised to learn she had never heard of YouTube.

False: You can't see the sky in China because of the pollution.
  • This is true only Beijing. A common misconception is that people drive too many cars here, causing excessive amounts of pollution. Truth is, everyone rides bicycles, mopeds and busses if possible. North of Beijing are long, extremely high mountains. Pollution from cities all over China (due to lack of emissions regulations) drift north to Beijing. The mountains block rain clouds from forming in Beijing (lots of dry desert heat) and also block pollution from moving away from the city. Many of the images you see of China on TV are in Beijing, giving it an exagerrated sense of how the pollution really is.

  • While in Beijing, I blew my nose after a long day in the city. It was the first time I ever had something black in my snot.

  • Green trees, blue skies and acres and acres of trees (more than Seattle!) grow in Southern cities like Suzhou, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Rain clears out smog and rain helps trees grow. These cities are sometimes even bluer than Seattle.

True: Traffic in China is crazy.
  • So far no accidents, but if you want to go, you go. Just make sure you quadruple check blind spots because pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds, busses, taxis, huge tour buses and cars will easily cut you off without signaling, easily cross into oncoming traffic and easily pull thousands of illegal traffic violations. If you can drive in China, you can drive anywhere else. You have to be aggressive, otherwise you won't make it through driver's ed here.

  • I rode in the front seat of a taxi cab today. I counted 23 possible accidents in a 10-minute car ride.

  • I saw a Ford Mondeo as a cop car here in Huangzhou.
  • I saw a few fake Lexuses in each city.
  • The most popular car models in Beijing are VW Jettas and Audi A4s.
  • I used a squat toilet for the first time at the Great Wall.
  • The steps in the Great Wall are 2/3 the length of my calves.
  • There's a portion of the Great Wall where you can buy a lock, engrave your and your lover's initials and tie it to a chain on the wall with a red string. Many believe that this will bring longevity and good luck to your relationship.
  • SWAT is "Elite Force." They were practicing in the park in Suzhou.
  • Huangzhou people don't say "喝茶" (Pinyin: he1 cha3) or "drink tea." They "吃茶" (Pinyin: chi1 cha3) or "eat tea." They actually eat the green tea leaves that they grow here in the Tea Terraces.
  • Maybelline has a factory in Suzhou that uses silk from their famous silk farms.
Update you guys later when I have Internet access.


Worst Culinary Award Goes to Beijing

Sorry for the lack of updates, I didn't have any Internet access in Beijing.

It's 10:33 p.m. and I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning to get a move on our tour. We left Beijing today and am currently in Sozhou. This update will be short, as I need to get some rest soon.

In Beijing we went to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the Imperial Garden. Lots of walking, lots of picture taking.

Beijing food sucks. Everything's either fried, spicy or extremely salty. Combined with their horrible, dry air (mountains block Beijing from receiving rain and the mountains also block the dirty air from moving north), my week long cough has made my voice sound like a hardened smoker.

Oh, and back to the food. Thank God we're in Sozhou now. This is the first meal I've had which is actually good.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the trip.

Street vendors in Wang Fu Jing in Beijing.

Wang Fu Jing plaza in Beijing.

Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Hainan Airlines (worst ever for international flights). Leg room anyone?

Great Wall

Mom and I at the Imperial Garden

More updates whenever I have Internet access available.


Eighteen Hours Until Take Off

Packing for my trip to China is about 75% done. All I have left to sort out are my electronics and their chargers, lotions, glasses, beauty products I'll be using tomorrow and socks.

I'm currently waiting for my makeup brushes to dry before I pack them into the duffel bag.

Total luggage count? 2 check-ins and 3 carry-ons (1 duffel bag, 1 laptop bag and purse).

I'll try and take pics at the airport tomorrow.

P.S. How many Hello Kitty items can you spot in all of the pictures?


The Blonde Dilemma: Tresses in China

Upon eating some fantastic salty fish fried rice (咸鱼鸡粒炒饭 Pinyin: xian2 yu2 ji1 li4 chao3 fan4) from Tea Garden in Seattle (new management and the food is fantastic), I had a revelation while conversing with my mom. I've had nice, shiny blonde highlights (Highlights: 挑染 Pinyin: tiao1 ran3) since I was 13-years-old (roughly the same age I fell in love with platform heels and makeup).

Although there was a period of time where I experimented with light brown highlights, my hair has stayed roughly the same color for quite some time (plus or minus a few varying shades).

Exhibit A:

With my upcoming trip to China, this level of blonde is practically unheard of, especially since the majority of women in China stick to hair that's within a shade of black. There are, however, exceptions to the rule.

"Light" brown in China is something I consider as dark brown.

Occasionally, Japanese culture will also wedge its way into Chinese hair trends. Picture a slightly tamer Ayumi Hamasaki and you'll more often than not run into a hair style like this:

If you haven't noticed either, bangs are in.

Take a look at this Baidu album to see more hair trends in China.

As I prepare to leave this Saturday, I'm noticing that my roots are ever more noticeable. Time to call the hair dresser right?

But before I even consider dialing her number, I have a problem. I need to decide on a color and cut that won't alienate me from my three-week long trip without also sacrificing my love affair with blondeness.

So far, after looking through fifteen-something Baidu albums, I've decided on a honey blonde look like this:

So it's definitely not as blonde as what Ayumi Hamasaki has done before, but it's definitely a comprise so that my mom and aunties can haggle vendors without them knowing we're from the States.

Another makeup set back due to differing cultures? Subtlety is everything in China. No more crazy cat-winged eyeliner or extreme blush.

Along with more beauty no-nos, extreme lip color (e.g. coral, red) is something to avoid. So what is considered OK? Natural looking foundation, subtle tight-lined eyeliner, faux lashes and light blush.

With all that said and done, it's time to start packing. I'll post pictures of the pre-trip carnage later on.


Cuteification: Why Marketers Should Learn From Hello Kitty

One thing I've learned from Rob Walker's Buying In is that our "screenager" generation (a term coined by Douglas Rushkoff) is a more skeptical and hard-to-reach audience than consumers of yore. This isn't to say we're immune from marketing campaigns (宣传攻势 Pinyin: xuan1 chuan2 gong1 shi4) or corporate attempts to suck our wallets dry. What Walker is saying is that ad agencies and marketing gurus have gotten smarter at integrating campaigns into our every day digital lives.

Take Twitter for example. wrote a follow-up article regarding HubSpot, a "marketing software company that enables inbound marketing through the use of social media, blogs and search engine optimization."

And to include all things Hollywood, Horatio from CSI drives a Hummer, Charles Crews uses a can of Diet Coke to sabotage a "hitman woman" in the "Hit me Baby" episode, Pepsi is launching their own Chinese TV show and the movie Cloverfield used alternate reality games (ARG) via forums to build pre-release hype (much like Lost and Halo ARG initiatives).

If you've taken any advertising classes in college, you'll know that curiosity is one of the best selling points a marketer can use to lure in potential cash cows like you and I. Mixed with murky advertising techniques (Rob Walker uses "murketing" for short) like the aforementioned strategies, the line where advertising stops and ends has been diluted with a mess of spam Tweets and irrecognizable TV programming laden with product advertising.

As consumers evolve into a smarter and more digitally savvy group, TiVo fast-forwarding and blocking randomly generated Twitter accounts will be more common. Ultimately, we'll make our way through the murkiness.

So what's another strategy marketers can use to make sure consumers will willingly listen to what they have to say? Look to the Japanese and Koreans for answers.

I love Hello Kitty. She's cute, fun, absolutely adorable and a symbol for all things young. Rob Walker's chapter on projectability says that Hello Kitty's success is in part due to her projectability, that is her mouthless, blank expression. You can cry with Hello Kitty, you can laugh with Hello Kitty. In other words, Hello Kitty is successful because she is a blank slate in which consumers can define and/or reappropriate the meaning.

Note how many segments have adopted Hello Kitty and made her their own: kids, young Asian women, gay men (e.g. Jeffree Star), goths.

Sanrio's smart, savvy marketing team has made an array of products catering to almost all of these audience segments. There's a Hello Kitty Gloomy Bear with blood all over her face for goths (Sanrio swears it's ketchup and made her hold a ketchup bottle), there's punk Hello Kitty rocking an eye patch for emo punk kids and even products for men. Male Hello Kitty briefs, anyone?

But what's this have to do with anything? The Japanese success of Sanrio and Sanrio-X characters has since spawned similarly successful products in Korea (think Blue Bear, Pucca and Mashimaro) and their popularity hasn't faded one bit.

On a recent trip to H-Mart in Federal Way (a Korean style Ranch 99 with an awesome Korean restaurant inside called Myung Dong Restaurant), I came upon the cutest bag of mochi buns ever.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for cute things, but who can't resist this adorably designed package of mochi buns?

The "cuteification" of things (even as odd as mochi buns) is something Western marketers should try more often. In an aisle full of mochi buns and other Korean frozen goods, the packaging above was the first and only thing that caught my eye.

Recently, Canadian ad agency Leo Burnett Toronto created a unique ad campaign for Toronto's Humane Society. They feature cutely vectored animals (e.g. dogs, birds, cats, bunnies) in a simple one-color background with affectionate, heart-warming copy. The ads received not only national attention, but awards for its simple yet innovative design.

But wait.

Haven't the Japanese and Koreans been doing "cuteification" already?

So as for Western marketers and ad agencies, please know that flooding consumers with so much murky content can only reap in profits for so long. Before you start scribbling away your next brilliant marketing campaign, there's never been a better time to bust out your Domokun pens for some much needed Eastern inspiration.

After all, Hello Kitty's been around much longer than most ad agencies around the world.